Leon McCarron’s first travel book, The Road Headed West, is something very special: as it says on the cover, it tells the story of his adventure cycling 6000 miles across America – and it’s a proper adventure. I read it in three long gulps, unable or unwilling to put it down.
McCarron travelled from New York westwards to Seattle before striking out to the south and down towards the Mexican border. For much of his route he criss-crossed the historic Lewis Clark Trail, battling into headwinds and getting into scrapes with bears, rabid car drivers and gun-totting, psychotic mid-westerners, while dodging typhoons and RVs. All this in addition to ploughing across the endless plains of the mid-west and the high mountains of the Rockies and beyond. A brilliant effort for a novice cyclist who barely made it out of New York on his first day and was tempted to give it all up before completing his first month in the saddle.
The Road Headed West stands out from the peloton for a number of reasons. It has left straight into my favourite top five titles.
Firstly, McCarron writes beautifully and with an easy, loping style that makes reading a pleasure. Better still he is a natural story-teller and he peppers his text with memorable and amusing tales of his encounters with the Americans he meets as well as the fellow cyclists he falls in with on the road. He neatly avoids the traps of relying too much on a diary of details or inflicting on his readers the all too common tedium of recounting where I slept and what I ate. This is a much more reflective book and all the better for it.
Secondly, McCarron has read several of the travel literature greats and copies their best trait – he combines accounts of his physical travels on the bike with insights into his internal mental and emotional journey as he struggles to come to terms with the challenge he has set himself. This lifts his offering high above the more mundane efforts of many other cycle touring authors. The result is a much more engaging and satisfying read.
He is also funny, human and at points almost vulnerable. He is not afraid to say that some bits of the travel were demanding just because they were boring in the extreme. Nor is he afraid to delve into the emotional cost of leaving loved ones, family and friends to take on what might be described as a selfish dream.
However, and above all, this is an uplifting book that may deter many from following in the author’s wheels, but for sure, will inspire the brave and footloose few to – well, get on their bikes and go!